2015 Player Previews: 3B Nick Castellanos

It was a year of mixed results for the Tigers rookie third baseman, as he had his share of ups and downs at the plate while struggling to re-adjust to the hot corner defensively. With a year under his belt at the plate and at his new “old” position, is Castellanos ready to take an important step forward in year two?

2014 In Review – Nick Castellanos

2014 Stats
Detroit 148 579 -0.5 94 .259 .326 .368 .306 .394 6% 24% 2/2 -30 -16.3

If you were just looking at offensive metrics, one would say it was a solid, typical first year for a talented but young rookie. Castellanos showed some flashes, hit for a fair bit of power, and had a reasonable average. His walk rate wasn’t great, and his strikeout rate was high, but it’s important to remember that Castellanos was 22-years old in 2014, and still maturing physically and learning the finer points of the game mentally.

Even better, there’s reason to believe his average should have been much better than it actually was. His average on balls in play was strong, and based on his ball in play ratios, it could be expected that it should have been even higher, with a .368 xBAbip. His expected average on balls in play is calculated based on a variety of metrics, but the easiest to identify and understand component to explain why is that almost 29% of his balls in play were line drives. Among qualified hitters, that was second best in MLB last year, behind only Freddie Freeman (who hit .288 with a .351 BAbip).

His overall offensive productivity was slightly below league average at a wRC+ of 94, but when you account for the potential to see his average take a leap forward, along with expected growth with additional experience, it’s reasonable to believe Castellanos will be a much more productive hitter in 2015.

So all good, right? Well, not so much, because there’s that defensive component to the game, and no matter what defensive metric you choose, his defense was very bad. Looking defensive runs saved, he come out at -30, essentially costing the Tigers three games worth of runs on his defense alone. That was the worst in baseball among qualified players, including a full game worse than former Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter.

Combine a slightly below average offensive player with the worst defense in baseball, and it should come as no surprise that Castellanos had a WAR below zero, or essentially, worse than a replacement-caliber player. Would the Tigers actually have been better off with Andrew Romine (or the equivalent) playing third base every day? It’s hard to jump to that conclusion, but the defense was so bad that it’s a conversation that at least would have to be considered.

All that being said, there are some important and necessary caveats. After spending his first two and a half years learning third base, the Tigers rather abruptly moved him to the outfield midway through 2012, where he wouldn’t be blocked at the corner infield spot by Miguel Cabrera. But then, rather abruptly after the 2013 season, the Tigers traded Prince Fielder, moved Cabrera back across the diamond, and penciled Castellanos into the lineup at third, even though he hadn’t taken a grounder in a live game since 2012 in Erie. A player already lacking polish in the field and natural athleticism that others possess, this was asking a lot, and the results can’t be terribly surprising.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 621 1.6 .280 .326 .327 .442 .335 -12
Steamer 523 0.6 .264 .311 .312 .413 .319 -9

Not surprisingly, with only a year of Major League history to account for, the projection services are more split on the future for Castellanos. ZiPS sees him taking a clear leap forward at the plate, hitting .280 with more power and becoming an above average offensive player that will be worth close to a couple wins, with an improved but still below average defensive grade. Steamer on the other hand doesn’t expect the same leap in offense, and so even with improved defense, he’s only slightly better than replacement level.

Steamer also forecasts a reduction in plate appearances for Castellanos, an unusual projection given he reached 579 PA’s last year, has no history of injury, and didn’t lose playing time toward the end of the season.

The TigsTown Take

When you only have a year’s worth of data to work off of, it’s important to utilize the additional information you have available to you, and in this case, that means returning to Castellanos’s scouting reports are a very useful tool in helping project where Castellanos is going to go.

When the Tigers drafted Castellanos, they were elated to have landed a talent as good as him so late in the draft (44th overall), as they felt he was one of the top five players coming out of the 2010 MLB Draft. The scouting reports from that point forward were all in agreement that he was a special hitter, and he was a mainstay at the top of the TigsTown Top Ten up until he graduated to the big leagues. Tigers fans should have every reason to believe he’s going to hit, and hit a lot, becoming a productive offensive player for the team this year.

The real question is going to come down to his defense. Does having a year under his belt, gaining comfort and repetition and familiarity with the spot help him grow into a close-to league-average defender? Or is he simply too limited physically to perform well at the spot? The jury remains out on this one for now. But a developing player should usually be given the benefit of the doubt when you’ve got a small sample size, so here’s betting Castellanos sees big steps forward, offensively and defensively.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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